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Judge warns against using divisive language prior to MAT hearing

SOS leaders say online post taken out of context

With a growing concern for safety due to the nation’s political climate, Clallam Count Superior Court judge Brent Basden warned advocates with the group Save Our Sequim (SOS) not to use perceived divisive language leading up to their land use petition hearing regarding a proposed medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic on Jan. 15.

However, SOS leaders say an online post has been taken out of context and that they don’t promote violence.

Basden met with attorneys for SOS, the City of Sequim and Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe in a special virtual meeting on Monday, Jan. 11, in Clallam County Superior Court, where he expressed his concerns over language on a Jan. 7 Facebook post on SOS’s page. The post asked supporters to “Stand up and fight for what you believe in” and to “send the message to the court that this hearing is important.”

The Land Use Petition Act (LUPA) hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 15, follows the city’s appointed hearing examiner Phil Olbrechts’ decision from Oct. 2020, to dismiss five appeals against the tribe’s proposed 16,800-plus-square-foot MAT clinic. The facility would have doctors would dispense daily doses of methadone, Suboxone and Vivitrol for patients with opioid-use disorder.

SOS seeks to reverse his decision in court that they “lack standing” so they can have the application reviewed again by city staff under a different (C-2, not A-2) process. However, city and tribe attorneys seek dismissal of the appeal.

In court, Basden said he understood the concern of SOS’s supporters, but told attorneys that people are unable to attend the hearing in-person, the address was incorrect and that no matter how many attend via Zoom, it won’t impact the court’s decision.

“(My decision) is based on law, not based on bias or prejudice, but based on what the law dictates, not how many people show up in the courtroom or a Zoom meeting.”

He said the post might not have gotten his attention a few weeks ago, but under the current climate “the idea of ‘sending a message to the court’ and ‘standing up to fight’ are unhelpful” and that using those words “raises my attention these days.”

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Basden told the attorneys to speak to their clients and that under current COVID-19 provisions showing up to the courtroom is inappropriate.

“I’m not trying to conflate this issue with what’s going on around the nation,” he said. “I’m trying to keep the courtroom safe.”

Mike Spence, an attorney for the SOS group, said he “had no idea” about the post and he would “never have advised my clients to say something like that.”

Basden said the online post was provided to the court and he was “trying to avoid a problem.”

SOS response

Board directors for SOS released a statement about the meeting, online post, and judge’s words that you can read in its entirety here: docdro.id/Fvog1jW.

They reiterated their stance that the clinic “will forever compromise the rural character of the Sequim we love” and that the group “is a voice for those citizens who rightfully oppose the location of this project.”

Board directors said it was their understanding the Jan. 11 meeting was “a private discussion between the judge and the attorneys (and) out of respect for the judge, SOS did not publicize this information and left it as a private discussion.”

They were surprised to learn about Basden’s concerns about the post.

“The SOS Facebook post, a flyer of sorts, was written to inspire and encourage citizens to participate,” SOS board directors wrote.

“Much like cheerleaders at a football game, we hoped to inspire the community to support the legal process. We are astonished to think someone could ever confuse this motivational language as a call to arms or a call to violence.”

The statement continued that “to conflate SOS with what happened in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, is completely out of context.”

“SOS has never broken or stretched the law,” they wrote. “We have utmost respect for the law and wish for the full text of the law to be followed in our case. In this we wholeheartedly agree with the judge.”

SOS board directors wrote it’s the group’s duty and right to inform citizens and encourage them to participate.

They add that SOS members have received aggressive backlash such as “six frivolous claims” to the Washington State Attorney General, unvalidated reports to government agencies, death threats against SOS chair Jodi Wilke, and vehicles and properties vandalized.

“SOS has never conducted itself in this manner, other than some rowdy Facebook posts by upset citizens, which we have condemned and removed from our site to the best of our abilities,” board directors wrote.

Courthouse concerns

Leaders with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office say they are assessing any potential local threats leading up to Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

“We are doing threat assessments right now,” said chief criminal deputy Brian King.

He said law enforcement continues to reach out to the state’s Fusion Center through Homeland Security to see if there are any local threats.

“There are not,” King said. “There’s been nothing identified for Clallam County. We are developing a threat assessment and security plan if we do though.”

King added, “It’s going to be an ever changing dynamic assessment.”

To attend the virtual LUPA hearing at 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 15, on Zoom, use ID: 976-7336-6377, code 12345; or via phone by calling 888-475-4499 or 833-548-0282 with code: 976-7336-6377#.

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